COVID-19: Council unveils $3M rates break for business

BUSINESSES now have until July 9 to pay their rates under an emergency relief scheme that will inject $3 million in the region's economy.

In the face of staggering job losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the council introduced the extension and a range of measures at a special meeting this morning at Town Hall.

The rates discount was originally due to expire on April 9.

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CEO Bernard Smith said the measures were targeted at the demographic most affected by the nationwide shutdowns.

"If those businesses can survive then their employees stay in their jobs," Mr Smith said.

The council is also firing up a campaign to encourage people to keep it local.

Mayor Mick Curran, Mark McDonald, Bob Fredman and Hilary Smerdon meet under COVID-19 social distancing rules.
Mayor Mick Curran, Mark McDonald, Bob Fredman and Hilary Smerdon meet under COVID-19 social distancing rules.

"We need to get it out to the local community … to spend locally and buy locally," Mr Smith said.

"It sends a message of support."

The council will go back to the drawing board on the budget for the 2020-21 capital works budget, with the priority to focus on projects that increase employment locally.

"What are the things we really have to do?" Mr Smith said.

"In many respects it's going to really alter the way we're thinking."

Mr Smith said he hoped landlords would pass the rate break on to their business tenants.

"We do understand not all businesses are owners, however we will very strongly be asking landlords to pass on this benefit to businesses if possible," he said.

Bob Leitch. Picture: Shane Zahner
Bob Leitch. Picture: Shane Zahner

The council's measures follow similar measures being taken by local councils around the state, including the Sunshine and Fraser Coast councils.

However Mr Smith said they did not take the same steps as Fraser Coast in giving the rates break to everyone.

"There are a proportion of ratepayers who are still very capable of paying their rates and we need to continue providing essential services," he said,

"However in understanding some people may have lost their jobs we have a very generous rate payment plan."

He urged anyone in difficulty "to come and talk to us".

He admitted the new measures left the door open for people to take "a free ride" and abuse the offer, making it too strict would only hurt those who needed the help most.

"If we tried to really start to separate (the genuine requests) … we end up in a bureaucratic system.

"We just have to acknowledge that.

"We're going to have to be as accommodating and flexible as possible," he said.

As for residents who find themselves in a tough position to pay their rates, he urged them to talk to the council about available options.

Some fees and charges will be waived in response to the pandemic.

A COVID-19 Business Information and Referral Contact Service will also start up, "by Monday at the latest".

Gympie Times


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